Tag Archives | Reading

Books Plus…Accessories for Readers

Today’s post by Patti Hill of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @PattiHill

Your reading friend already has a stack of books on her nightstand. Does she need another? (The answer is yes, of course, but there are other options.)   Perhaps she’s a bit particular about what she reads. How about a gift certificate? (Yawn!) Instead, consider these gift suggestions:

Imagine waking up to Mrs. Dalby’s Buttermilk Scones from James Herriot’s All Things Bright and Beautiful or sitting down to a steaming bowl of Amish Chicken and Dumplings from Jodi Picoult’s Plain Truth. For dessert, there’s Effie Belle’s Coconut Cake from Olive Ann Burn’s Cold Sassy Tree. These and many more culinary treats are inspired by literary treats in The Booklover’s Cookbook by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Kay Jensen. I suppose a word of caution should be given about the Turkish Delight from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s addictive.

The next best thing to a new book is a new purse, especially one that declares your friend’s love of reading like this book-turned-purse I found on Etsy.com. You can Google “purses made from novels ” and find a cache of possibilities, or is that clutch of possibilities?

 

The Reading Woman collection includes vintage portraits of women reading on every page. The collection includes mini calendars, full-sized calendars, address books, and other useful items, all reasonably priced.

 

 

Does your friend have to borrow reading hours from her sleeping hours? I use a headlamp to read in bed, so that Hunky Hubby have to pull the blankets over his head. It’s hands-free lighting with a pure light that lasts and lasts.

I highly recommend Books I’ve Read: A Reader’s Journal for the serious readers on your list. No matter how unforgettable a book may seem as you’re reading, details and plotlines do have a way of fading with time. If you’re of a certain age, titles and authors might as well be smoke.

Tea and books go together like—well—tea and books! Novel Tea adds quotes from our favorite stories to sweeten the pot.

All that’s left is to decide which one you your friend will love.

May the joy of our Savior’s birthday enrich your Christmas and all the days of 2013.

 

 

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Literary First Love – Juliette Fay

Today’s post by the amazing Juliette Fay | @JulietteFay

Juliette Fay

I can’t remember learning to read. As I’ve watched each of my kids undertake to makes sense of all those lines and curves, I’ve thought, How could I not remember this? Twenty-six different letters, many with several different sounds, combinations making even more sounds …. Let’s be honest, it’s a lot to take on.

Maybe my memories of those struggles were eclipsed by reading itself, which, once I’d mastered it, was like being let loose in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. A good book felt as delicious as hot fudge sundae to me. But more than that, the characters helped me make sense of my own life, and opened wide the French doors to other worlds, so I could escape my life when it felt too nonsensical.

I loved The Boxcar Children. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s about a family whose parents die suddenly. The four kids decide that their grandfather, whom they’re supposed to go live with, is too mean, and they set off on their own. They find a boxcar in the woods, clean it out, scavenge old household items from a nearby dump and make it a home.

I loved that book in part because it was my aunt’s from childhood, and for some reason I thought I could only read it when I went to her house several hours away. Its appeal grew by the very fact of its limited availability. (I have no idea why it never occurred to me to get a copy from the local library, which was like a second home to me.)

While my own family was struggling with divorce—a fairly rare and shameful thing in our small New England town at the time—and its resulting financial crisis, The Boxcar Children offered perspective. These kids had no parents and no money. They relied strictly on hard work, ingenuity and cooperation. (Are there any life skills more critical these?) When one of them gets gravely ill, they have to make very hard decisions.

And yet I envied them also. Their relationships were straightforward, reliable, loving. They disagreed occasionally but never had screaming fights. No hair was ever pulled, which was the tactic of choice among my two sisters and me. The adults in the book were generally trustworthy, though it often took the kids several chapters to be sure.

The Boxcar Children gave me hope that, though my own young life often felt incomprehensible, good things could come. Happy surprises might await. In fact, they did, and I didn’t even have to go live in a boxcar for them to find me.

We’re giving away two signed copies of Juliette’s latest novel, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME. Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.

Sean Doran has spent twenty years as a nurse in Third World war zones and natural disaster areas, fully embracing what he’d always felt was his life’s mission. But when burnout sets in, Sean is reluctantly drawn home to Belham, Massachusetts, the setting of Fay’s bestselling first novel, SHELTER ME. There he discovers that his steely aunt, dramatic sister and quirky nephew are having a little natural disaster of their own … and that the bonds of love and loyalty might just rewrite what he once thought he knew about his purpose in life.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Surrounded By Story

Today’s post by Courtney Miller Santo, author of much-anticipated debut novel, THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE | @Courtney_Santo

Courtney Miller Santo

There aren’t any skeletons in my family closet. Well, I should say there are plenty, but the bones don’t stay put long enough to gather even a modicum of dust. I grew up surrounded by storytellers and much of their material came from the criminals and screw-ups scattered across our family tree. A good story is better currency than gold. It wasn’t until I was eight or nine that I became aware of the fact that the adults told each other stories that they didn’t tell in front of children.

These stories, often about their own mistakes, embarrassments, and regrets were much more interesting than what we heard sitting around in the living room trying to digest the bounty of a holiday meal. Such confessions were given after the children were in bed. I remember coming out of my room in search of a glass of water and hearing my father talk about his service in the Vietnam War. Nobody noticed me, and so I snuck into the living room and lay on my back behind the couch listening to my parents, my grandparents and other relatives trade stories.

If I were to pinpoint when I decided I wanted to be a writer, it would be the summer I read all of Laura Ingles Wilder’s books, but that day, when I fell asleep trying to figure out which of Grandpa’s relatives had gone into labor in a bar, I discovered the material I needed to do what Laura had done. I still eavesdrop—on strangers and relatives—because unguarded conversation is where we let a little of the truth of our lives out. After I had my first child, I became privy to the adults-only skeletons and discovered what I hadn’t realized as a child. These stories weren’t kept from me because of the subject matter, but because once told they humanized the adults—made them fallible. Children mostly require infallibility (or at least the illusion of it) from the adults in their lives.

My book, THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE explores the problems that arise when skeletons are kept in the closet and parents, especially mothers, fail their children. So many of the stories in the novel are re-imagined versions of the stories I’ve heard about my own family over the years and I hope that readers find them as fascinating as I did.

We’re giving away a copy of THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE today. Simply leave a comment on this post to enter.

Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women—an unbroken line of daughters—living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California.

Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest person in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: the eldest two are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone.

But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy. And it is about to become more complicated now that Erin, the youngest, is back, alone and pregnant, after two years abroad with an opera company. Her return and the arrival of the geneticist who has come to study the Keller family ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.

Told from varying viewpoints, Courtney Miller Santo’s compelling and evocative debut novel captures the joys and sorrows of family—the love, secrets, disappointments, jealousies, and forgiveness that tie generations to one another.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Connecting To the Unseen – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post by Kathleen Popa of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters @kathleenpopa

It wouldn’t surprise you, would it, if I told you my two sons were exceptional? Even if you disagreed – if you’d met them and hadn’t found them special at all, you would at least concede that I would of course think they were, because I am their mom.

You wouldn’t disagree, though.

If you met them, you would find them handsome, kind, bright, creative and engaging. Really. That’s what I always hear from people who go out of their way to tell me. They truly are remarkable.

But what if I said that when I see them, I feel the light that emanates from their souls, I honestly see halos around their heads, I practically hear the angels sing? Well, you might believe me the way Scully believed Mulder ( “I’m sure you thought you saw… “), but you wouldn’t see the halos, and you wouldn’t hear the angels.*

Madeleine L’engle held that we are made like onions, with all the ages we have ever been still layered inside. The infant still lives, as does the two year old, the ten-year-old, the teenager. I believe this is true.

So the reason, I think, that I see these young men so clearly is that I have witnessed the formation of all those layers. Few others — their father does, and my eldest’s mother (I’m his step-mom) — understand the things I know because I was there.

I believe that when, as the Bible predicts, the lion will lie down with the lamb, then at that moment we will all see more clearly past our noses into the souls of each other. We will see one another the way I see my boys and be astonished that we ever passed a human on the street without looking up.

Because we will see what was formerly unseen.

Trust me — this all has to do with books.

Over at Novel Matters, we are having a long conversation about why the novel matters, and I believe the answer is connected to all I’ve just said.

The following video is an excellent interview with Eugene Peterson conducted in 2007 at Point Loma Nazarene University. Toward the end of the video (you can drag the slider to 26:11 if you’re in a hurry), he says something I like:

“Imagination is almost, not quite, the same thing as faith. It connects what we see with what we don’t see, and pulls us through what we see to what we don’t see. ”

When an author writes a novel, she must know her characters, layer by layer. She uses her imagination to blend what she knows of her own story with what she knows of the stories of others — some of them people she knows very well.

When you read a book, you use your imagination to flesh out the story the author has given. She has written down the words, but you supply the pictures. You bring to the page what you know of yourself and those you love.

And somehow, when this collaboration works at its best, the result is that you look at the stranger on the street with new eyes. You glimpse the light between the layers. You hear music.

*Their wives might, or if not yet, I think they will. You should meet the man I’ve come to know these past 27+ years. Light and angel songs.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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On Faith In Love

Today’s post from author Sarah Healy | @SarahEHealy

Sarah Healy

I’m fairly certain that my book confuses people. What is this? I imagine them thinking as they pick it up, running their fingers over the cover. What is this strange book with a question mark in the title? They might assume that it’s faith fiction, then read a few pages and realize that it’s not—not in any conventional sense at least. It’s funny and irreverent, does that mean it’s a satire? Perhaps it’s women’s fiction, since it deals with relationships and family.

In the simplest terms, CAN I GET AN AMEN? is a story about love— the limitations we put on it, the mistakes we make despite it.   The heroine, Ellen Carlisle, loses her job and her husband, and has to move back home with her evangelical Christian parents, though she doesn’t share their brand of faith. Oh, you might think, it’s another book about hokey, misguided religious-types who shove their faith down everyone’s throats. It’s not that either. Not in the end.

Let me first be candid and tell you that I, like Ellen, grew up in a very religious household. And I, like Ellen, do not currently practice any form of organized religion. However, this book was not written to deride or promote Christianity, but to present it, honestly and fairly, and in a way I haven’t often seen it done before.

Mainstream fiction tends to represent faith as a flaw or a weakness. In Christian fiction, it seems to always be the beacon by which the right and just path is lit. I don’t think that either characterization is necessarily accurate. Faith—how and if and why we have it—is an expression of our humanity. And it’s the humanity of Ellen and her family that I wanted to convey. Through the course of the narrative, they hurt each other and they make mistakes and they fall down and get back up, and ultimately, they love each other.

So what is this book? How do I categorize it? To be honest, I don’t really know. But the more I hear from readers, the less that concerns me. Enough of you have told me that you saw your mother or your sister or yourself in it. Enough of you have said that even though you grew up a Catholic or an Atheist or a Jew, you related to it. Enough of you have told me that you love it. And it’s in love that I have faith.

We’re giving away two copies of Sarah’s novel CAN I GET AN AMEN? (US and Canada residents only) Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.

When the last thing you want is the one thing you need, you’ve got to have a little faith….

Growing up, Ellen Carlisle was a Christian: She went to Jesus camp, downed stale Nilla Wafers at Sunday school, and never, ever played with Ouija boards. Now, years later, when infertility prevents her from giving her ambitious attorney husband a family, she finds herself on the brink of divorce, unemployed, and living with her right-wing, born-again Christian parents in her suburban New Jersey hometown.  There the schools are private, the past is public, and blessings come in lump sums.
Then Ellen meets a man to whom she believes she can open her heart, and she begins to think that maybe it’s true that everything happens for a reason—until all that was going well starts going very badly and Ellen is  finally forced to dig deep to find her own brand of faith.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Up The Standard – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post by Bonnie Grove at our sister blog Novel Matters| @BonnieGrove @NovelMatters

A recent chat with a friend:

Me: What are you reading?

Friend: Uh. . . well. . .

Me: Life is too busy to read for fun these days, eh?
Friend: Uh. No. It’s just that . . .

Me (my Spidy-senses tingling): What? Oh-my-gosh you’re not reading smut and are ashamed to tell me, are you? (I said this jokingly. I’m married to her pastor, and while I often forget that the world views me as “The Pastor’s Wife “, oddly, the world does not.)

Friend: No. Not smut! It’s just that what I read probably isn’t up to your standards.

Ugh.

My standards? Do I have standards? Should I get me some? How exactly does a person go about acquiring standards of reading?

A quick peruse of the books piled beside my bed (this is not staged, I’ve just gone to my room and listed the books I see on my bedside table):

  • The Harbrace Anthology of Poetry
  • Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into History
  • Small Wonder, essays by Barbara Kingsolver
  • No Compromise, the life story of Keith Green, by Melody Green
  • The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, edited by R.V. Cassill
  • Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: the private writings of the “Saint of Calcutta “, edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk.
  • Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning
  • Inhabiting the Cruciform God, Kenosis, justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, by Michael J. Gorman
  • How to Write a Sentence, and how to read one, by Stanley Fish
  • My personal writing journal by me (filled with bits of odd gibberish)
  • Good Poems, selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor
  • The Norton Introduction to Literature, (fourth edition)
  • The Forgotten Waltz, by Anne Enright (library book—Please, Lord, help me remember to take it back. Fines piling up.)
  • Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein
  • Comeback Churches, by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson
  • A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Roget’s college Thesaurus (huh?)
  • The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English, Selected by Margaret Atwood & Robert Weaver
  • The Man in the Shed, by Lloyd Jones (library book—must keep track)
  • The Gathering, by Anne Enright (library book—should attach beeper similar to the locator function on my cordless phone)
  • A magazine called Leadership (this issues is entitled: Dark Nights of the Soul)
  • The Harbrace Anthology of Drama
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry

Two things are clear: I have too many books burdening my bedside table. And secondly, my books aren’t about a personal “standard ” of reading, but are a refection of who I am.

Reading is so personal.

I’m a student of writing (anthologies of literature, poetry, drama, books on writing), a pastor’s wife who has more than a passing interest in what her husband does for a living (explains the theology books, and magazine), a soul out searching in the world (Manning, Mother Teresa), a student of psychology (hence the leaning toward dark, introspective, Irish writers), and am pressed for time (short stories galore), and a kid at heart (Uncle John’s, Madeleine “L’Engle).

Oh, and they have books for sale at Value Village for, like, practically free.

So, here’s the thing about my friend’s impression that I have a 'standard’ of reading that is somehow higher than hers—it’s just not true. Different, sure. Higher? I don’t even know what that means.

We live in a critical culture. Micro-managing backseat drivers abound. We’re conditioned to compare every facet of our lives with every facet of other people’s lives. Comparison is the thief of joy.

Reading is so joyful.

That feeling that comes over you when you crack the spine of a novel you’ve been looking forward to reading. Bliss.

That shock of recognition when you read the opening lines of a new-to-you author and realize you’ve found a friend.

Even if you’re the only one of your friends who is reading that novel you’re enjoying, I hope you read it anyway. If no one else likes what you like, I hope you like it anyway.

Your bookcase (or bedside table) is more than a collection of books. It’s a collection of the pieces of you.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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The Magic Trick

At She Reads, we work every day to bring you the magic of reading from the most talented authors out there. We want to take you to places you’ve never been, introduce you to people you’d never meet otherwise, and immerse you in situations you’d never get to experience yourself—all by opening the pages of a book.

As a reader, novels have had such power over me. I would put books down and sigh, “I don’t know how that author did that. ” The sigh was part awe, part hopelessness that I would ever be able to do what that author did. But I wanted to. Oh, how I wanted to.

So I began to learn the tricks of the trade. How to create characters a reader gets invested in. How to make a setting seem as real as a reader’s own backyard. How to form a love story that resonates with a reader. How to tap into universal themes that echo in a reader’s heart. I have read so many books on writing, created my own little DIY MFA program. And now I know how they do it. But I have to admit that some of the magic got lost in the learning.

When my brother was about ten, he went through a season of being fascinated with magic. He bought books and kits to teach him how to do magic tricks and joined a magic club in our town. I went with him once to that club, most likely because my parents couldn’t find childcare for me so I was drug along. I remember sitting in that room of magicians all sharing their tricks and—while the camaraderie was touching—there was something so un-magical about these magicians spilling their secrets.

I didn’t want to see behind the curtain. I didn’t want to know the magic. I wanted to be dazzled, fooled, taken for a ride.

I read differently now that I’m an author. I’ve turned into a bit of a reading snob now that I know the tricks. I can tell you who’s doing it well and who cut corners. That doesn’t mean I always do it perfectly. That doesn’t mean I’ve reached the ranks of Houdini. Far from it. But it does mean that knowing the magic makes you more aware when the magic is present. Those are the books we share with you here. So that you can be moved, awed, and stirred by story.

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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What I Love About Book Clubs

Today’s post from Sharon Souza at our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters

I started a book club about 3 years ago with my adult daughters and some of our friends. We get together once a month for a potluck dinner and discussion of our book of the month. While we enjoy our dinner and discussion, we enjoy just being together most of all.

But that aside, a benefit of our eclectic club that I especially enjoy is reading books I never would have chosen on my own. For example, two years ago my 34-year-old daughter came with the suggestion that we read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. At the time, I’d not heard of the book, and I wasn’t overly excited about reading it. But I kept that to myself, because I wanted everyone to help choose the books we read.

Well, let me tell you, I was completely immersed in the story from page one. I loved the author’s style and the fictional world she created, and loved the protag’s voice. But when I got to the end of the first chapter—which literally took my breath away—I was wholly invested in the story.

And so was every other woman (aged 34 to 70+) in our group. We read book one in the trilogy, then read book two the next month. Then we had to wait four months for book three to release. I’ve read the series twice more since then, and have grown to love it more with each reading.

When we learned Hollywood was making the movie—of course they were!—we spent much of our monthly discussion time “casting ” the film. We thought Robert Downey Jr. would make an excellent Haymitch, but Hollywood didn’t get the memo. No matter, Woody Harrelson won me from his first smarmy word. Naturally, we all went to see the movie as a group—along with all our husbands, who also read the trilogy at our recommendation. We also read The Help and saw that movie together as a group.

We’ve read contemporary novelists, English and American classics, and after reading Sea Wolf by Jack London, one of my all-time favorites, we planned an outing to the Jack London State Park in Glen Allen, in the California wine country, about two hours from where we live. Unfortunately it rained buckets that day so we cancelled, but we’ll get there eventually.

A few months after reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, one of the younger women suggested we read Mrs. De Winter by Susan Hill. While I enjoyed Rebecca, I would not have chosen to read Mrs. De Winter, but was pleasantly surprised by the story and the quality of the writing. Same with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is a remarkable book.

Some books we’ve loved; others not so much. And we don’t always agree. We grade every one, and learn a lot about ourselves and each other in the process. We meet tonight, and will discuss the first third of And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. We’re reading this one over the course of the summer because it’s such a lengthy book. I’m eager to find out what the others think about it. I’m not usually big on historical fiction, but I’m enjoying it a lot.

What about you? What book(s) have you read and enjoyed as a book club selection that you might not have read otherwise? And what fun things do you do as a group?

Sharon K. Souza is the author of Lying on Sunday and Every Good and Perfect Gift. Her newest release, Unraveled, will be available in July. Visit her website for more information www.sharonksouza.com

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Book Club Column – Sister by Rosamund Lupton

Today’s post by our Book Club Columnist Melissa Hambrick

Melissa Hambrick

Here’s the problem.

I have this book club column to write. And I want to tell you all about this fantastic book that my clubbers and I just read—Sister by Rosamund Lupton.

But I can’t. Because I can’t trust myself NOT to tell you something that will lead you to the shocking, oh-my-gosh-I-didn’t-see-that-coming ending, as we get to know Beatrice and find out what has happened to her sister Tess in this mystery-within-a-mystery.

I’ll do my best to talk around it, to instead tell you about the wonderful and super easy potato soup that we had, the crusty bread, the leafy salad with homemade dressing. The cherry-chocolate cake.

Because surely a moist, cherry-chocolate cake should be able to keep me from spilling all the details about how much Beatrice loves her sister, Tess. How she immerses herself in finding out what has happened to her, and how, as one clubber put it, Beatrice almost transforms into Tess. Lives in her apartment, wears her clothes—all the subtle things that bond these sisters tighter and tighter through the story, until—

Nope, cherry-chocolate cake isn’t enough.

Maybe if I share the recipe for the potato soup—I mean, it was so easy! I love any potato soup that starts with a package of frozen hash browns and means I don’t have to stand there, slicing and dicing.

I have better things to do with my time than slave over a hot stove. I could be reading a great book, of course, like Sister. Maybe thinking about my own sister, and the ways that we think we know each other so well, but the truth is that maybe we never really know each other. People aren’t always what they seem—which reminds me of all the different times my club and I thought we knew what happened to Tess when we were reading. Each of us was sure of it. And then—

Potato soup isn’t going to cut it either.

Perhaps the crusty bread, so crunchy on the outside and soft inside, with real butter. Because I think life is short and we should all eat real butter and savor it. Kind of the way that we really savored Lupton’s writing style, how she evoked such feelings from her descriptions. How the details about Tess unfold as the story progresses.

We loved the way Lupton took risks in her storytelling, moving backward and forward in time and leading the reader on a winding path full of uncertainty. In some ways, the more detail we found out, the less we knew about the eventual ending of the story. One of our clubbers said she loved the twists, but the ending left her a bit unsatisfied; that she’d made the investment and wanted a concrete ending, even an epilogue.

Rosamund Lupton

But a good book leaves you wanting more (kind of like a good meal that makes you wish you had room for just one more bite). My thought is that sometimes a book is better when it doesn’t tie everything up in a nice bow at the end. Maybe, like for my friend, it might be an ending you don’t love,  or that keeps you wanting too much. But if it keeps you thinking after that last chapter, then not only is it a great book—it’s a great book club book.

So, along those lines, enough with the food-based procrastination. Here are a few questions to keep you and your book club talking about Sister. I’m sure you can dig up a little something to snack on while you chat—maybe even some potato soup.

  1.  What did you think of the twist and the ending? What do you think happened?
  2.  Did you feel that Beatrice was a reliable narrator throughout the book? Did you ever question her story?
  3.  Journalist and author Elizabeth Fishel says “A sister is both your mirror—and your opposite. ” Beatrice and Tess are very different. What separates them? What brings them together?
  4. Looking back, our club has read several books that have to do with ethical choices, many of them medical or genetic in nature (Sister; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishigura; Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder). We didn’t pick them because of those topics, but of course they made for great discussion. What has your club read that are thematic, and what do you think draws you to the theme?
  5. We often make judgments about people we think we know, especially those closest to us. Short of stepping into their lives and literally wearing their clothes, as Beatrice does with her sister, how can we find ways to better understand them?

Easy Crockpot Potato Soup

1 30 oz. bag of frozen, cubed hash browns

3 14 oz. cans of chicken broth

1 can of cream of chicken soup

½ cup onion, chopped

¼ tsp. ground pepper

1 pkg. cream cheese (don’t use fat free—it won’t melt)

In a crockpot, combine everything EXCEPT for the cream cheese. Cook for 6-8 hours on low heat. About 1 – 2 hours before serving, add cream cheese and keep heated until thoroughly melted. Serve with cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, green onions, or whatever else you think would be good!

Melissa Hambrick  is the She Reads book club columnist. She is also a former entertainment industry PR exec, a full-time stay-at-home mom of two boys and a part-time volunteer for any school function that she didn’t scrunch down in her seat far enough to avoid.   Having written for numerous publications, including  Home Life  and  Today’s Christian Woman, and with chapter one of what is sure to be a bestselling novel stored in her laptop  for the last year and a half, she blogs at WordMom.com less frequently than she probably should.   Her book club, which she lovingly dubs 'overachievers anonymous,’ actually has a strange preference for books they don’t really love, which  they find leads  to much more interesting conversation.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Literary First Love – Dawn Tripp

Today’s post by Dawn Tripp | Dawn on Facebook

Dawn Tripp

Update: congrats to Linda A. who was randomly chosen as our winner! Linda has been notified via email.

As a child I lived for stories—we would go to the library or the bookstore and I would walk along the shelves and feel the spines, knowing that under every cover was a world I could fall into. I loved Wuthering Heights for its dark and wild strangeness; I loved the restless heart of Hemingway’s old fisherman and his dream of lions playing on the beach in The Old Man and the Sea. I loved Barrie’s Peter Pan—Tiger Lily, flying children, pirates—the defiant magic of Neverland—that elsewhere place which to me still represents the transcendent dream-like shimmer laid over everyday life that I feel when I am immersed in a story.

But the book that haunted me most as a child was The Little Prince—that deft, lovely blade of a novel by Antoine Saint-Exupéry. I’ve read it in French. I’ve read it to my sons in English. And it still haunts me. The story of an aviator whose plane goes down in the Sahara where he encounters an extraordinary little boy, who says: “Please, draw me a sheep. ” A boy who is in love with a rose from another planet and who falls from a kind of innocence and sets out on a journey through various adult worlds, deserts, and dangers, in a lonely despair because his love is not returned. A boy who hears the laughter of the stars like tiny bells, who measures time in sunsets and contends, “If somebody wants a sheep, it is a proof that one exists. ”

There are other lines that still rise up in me: “What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well ” and “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is most essential is invisible to the eye. ” Even young, those bits of wisdom rattled around like hard little gems inside me.

The Little Prince is a kind of fable—simple and eloquent, strung through with moments of blinding clarity; a faith in love, artistic imagination, the transient beauty of flower. And it is, by turns, a lyric and scathing reminder of the rightness of how a child sees.

To write well, I find that I have to be able to drop my adult mind and meet the world as I once did as a child—with that openness of living in the moment, excised from time—observing, listening, feeling without thinking, seeing as the Little Prince sees—

In The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry renders a world that is not entirely of this world: art is not peripheral or indulgent, but deeply essential to life; there is use in beauty; and what is eternal exists within a moment—even if that moment is a fragment of artistic imagination, a story, or a dream.

We’re giving away a copy of Dawn’s latest novel, GAME OF SECRETS, to one lucky reader. Leave a comment on this post to be entered and we’ll draw a winner at the end of the day.

In 1957, Jane Weld was eleven years old when her father Luce, a petty thief, disappeared. His skiff was found drifting near the marsh, empty except for his hunting coat and a box of shot-gun shells. No one in his small New England town knew for sure what happened until, three years later, his skull rolled out of a gravel bank by the river, a bullet hole in the temple. There were rumors he had been murdered by the jealous husband of his mistress, Ada Varick. Now, half a century later, Jane is still searching for the truth of her father’s death, a mystery made more urgent by the unexpected romance that her willful daughter, Marne, has struck up with one of Ada’s sons. As their love affair intensifies, Jane and Ada meet for a casual Friday boardgame, that soon transforms into a cat-and-mouse game of words long left unspoken, dark secrets best left untold.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

read more